The following is from an email circulated by Buncombe County Planning Board member Joe Sechler.
Dear Buncombe County Residents,
I am contacting you because you have, over time, written me – a member of the County Planning Board – about your concerns for steep slope and ridge top development. A lot has happened since you let me know of your concerns. Now you have a critical opportunity to make a difference. Here’s what’s happened this summer and about to happen this fall and what you can do.
The County Planning Board held a public hearing in July for two versions (PB’s and staff’s) of the proposed changes to the subdivision ordinance (Chapter 70) (The planning staff and the PB could not come to an agreement and this is significant.). The proposals deal primarily with changes and additions to the steep slope or hillside rules and are sweeping in nature. The staff’s version is by far the better of the two, but not without flaws. Certain groups of citizens are working to convince the Commissioners that the staff’s version needs to be tightened; that it has some serious shortcomings.
This coming Monday, September 13, at 9:30 am in the Commissioners’ chambers on Valley St., the PB will hold a public hearing for proposed changes and additions to another law: the zoning code (Chapter 78) which includes the establishment of two overlay districts: the Steep Slope/High Elevation Overlay District (SSHEOD) and the Protected Ridge Overlay District (PROD). Visualize these as horizontal plains or pieces of glass that are superimposed over the County’s terrain, slicing through the mountains at 2500’ and higher above sea level. The rules associated with these overlay districts affect a wide range of matters dealing with allowed disturbance (grading) and impervious surfaces, building height, vegetative screening and re-vegetation from 2500’ on up to the top of the highest peaks. This set of rules directly affects single and multifamily dwelling construction on slopes and ridge lines.
There is an urgent need, however, to ensure that there is written coordination or cross referencing of the affects or influence of the overlay districts on subdivision development (either proposal), that is, the stricter provisions of all pertinent laws shall prevail. As each document is currently worded, there is wide latitude for miss-interpretation and lack of enforcement which has been an ongoing problem. Some citizens are working on this. Nevertheless, the overlay districts, as proposed, are good for the community.
On October 5, the Commissioners will entertain public comment on both of these sets of laws: the two versions of the proposed subdivision ordinance and the proposed zoning changes. Their charge will be to select one the subdivision proposals and do a yea or nay for the zoning proposals. They could send back one or all of these proposals for rework.
Hopefully, the final result will further protect our mountain sides and ridge lines from irresponsible development, serious erosion and the ugly scaring, the likes of which we see in Swannanoa Valley, Beaverdam Valley, Fairview, Reynolds Mountain and elsewhere, assuming the new laws will be enforced, and that’s the rest of the story.
What can you do to help promote environmentally responsible development?
First, write letters – not emails – to the Commissioners (to arrive the week before the Oct 5 Tuesday hearing) and request them to support the staff’s version of the subdivision ordinance, the proposed zoning changes, and to, once and for all, get serious about enforcement.
Tell them you want inspectors to go out to the sites (subdivision or lot) and determine if the developer or lot owner has complied with the allowable amounts of disturbance and impervious surfaces. If the allowances have been exceeded, then fines need to be levied and a re-vegetation plan required as stated in the law. This is not currently done. This is vital! Had the current ordinance been enforced from the initial approval of the preliminary plans to what actually happens on the ground, we might not have the scarring and erosion we have today. I have pasted below the Commissioners’ addresses. Some don’t have regular mailing addresses, but you can mail your letter to each commissioner at: 205 College St., Suite 300, Asheville, NC 28801.
Second, sit in on the September 13 PB meeting and speak to the board members if you’re so inclined. An issue could come up that you may find yourself compelled to speak about.
Third, go to the October 5 Commissioner hearing and exercise the use of your three minutes to express your desires and concerns. Let’s have a flood of citizens there to demonstrate to the Commissioners that Buncombe County and Asheville City residents are tired of what’s being done to our beautiful mountains. Numbers do matter.
By the way, sending the letters may be the most important tool you have (But still go to the Oct 5 meeting – it makes good press). Often, but not always, the Commissioners have made up their minds before they go into the meeting.
The work done by the PB and the staff has been underway for almost two years – a daunting task. Both groups deserve a huge amount of credit for the effort. That said, the decision made by the Commissioners on Oct 5 will be one that we will live with for years to come. The Commissioners will not likely be coming back to these topics, maybe for a lifetime. That’s why it’s so important that you get involved now.
Fourth, pass this along to friends who share your concerns.
Thanks and my best to each of you, and thanks for sharing your concerns with me.
David Gantt, an attorney, is serving his fourth term on the Board. He is currently an active member of the Asheville Regional Airport Authority, Eblen Charities, United Way, Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council, Land of Sky Regional Council, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee. Commissioner Gantt is an advocate for education and the working people of Buncombe County.
Private Business Info:
82 Church Street
Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 252-2852
Fax: (828) 254-4539
A retired high school coach and principal, Bill Stanley is serving his sixth term. In addition to his local involvement in civic affairs, he is a former President of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and is currently serving as a member of the MPO, RPO, Land of Sky Regional Council and the Civic Center Task Force. Commissioner Stanley was recently appointed to the NC Advisory Commission on Military Affairs by Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight.
Phone: (828) 250-4007
Fax: (828) 250-6077
Commissioner K. Ray Bailey was elected to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners in 2008. He is the President Emeritus of Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College where he served for 42 years serving the last 15 as the President. Commissioner Bailey currently serves on the Economic Development Coalition and the Tourism Development Authority.
Phone: (828) 273-1921
Fax: (828) 250-6077
Commissioner Holly Jones was elected to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners in 2008. She served on Asheville City Council from 2001-2008. She currently serves on the Transportation Advisory Committee, Community Energy Advisory Committee and Land of Sky Council. Commissioner Jones works as the executive director of the YWCA in downtown Asheville.
Mail: 322 Westover Dr., Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 250-4004
Fax: (828) 250-6077
A fifth generation native of Buncombe County and a retired Director of Vocation for the Asheville City Schools, Carol Peterson is serving her second term of office. She also serves on Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College Board of Trustees, Asheville Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Task Force, Children First Board, Folk Heritage Committee, Health Partners Board, Juvenile Crime Prevention Committee and the Smart Start Board.
Phone: (828) 250-4005
Fax: (828) 250-6077